Seattle Police consent decree set to end after more than a decade

Mar 28, 2023, 1:30 PM

consent decree...

The consent decree court order between the City of Seattle and its police department is set to expire after 11 years. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP via Getty Images)

The consent decree court order between the City of Seattle and its police department is set to expire after 11 years.

The Seattle consent decree was established in 2012 after an investigation led by the Justice Department found there was a pattern of using excessive force within the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Specifically, the Justice Department found SPD used weapons either excessively or unnecessarily more than half the time during arrests, according to CNN, and that officers engaged in a pattern of discriminatory policing during pedestrian encounters.

“This all started from when a woodcarver was shot way back in the day, and the SPD has been under these orders to fix their camp up, and they’ve been working on that for 11 years now,” KIRO Reporter Matt Markovich said on The Gee & Ursula Show. “And then finally, there is an agreement between the Justice Department, which kind of wrote up the consent decree, and the City of Seattle to wipe away all the vast majority of all the requirements there. They’d be out from under it. They’ve satisfied it to the eyes of the Department of Justice.”

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On Aug. 30, 2010, John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver, was shot four times by SPD Officer Ian Birk. Williams died at the scene, and the shooting was ruled unjustified by the Firearms Review Board.

Federal Judge James Robart must approve the agreement first. The agreement was submitted to the judge Tuesday morning.

“As outlined in the agreement, and if approved by Judge Robart, let me say that we’re in,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a prepared statement. “We must continue to demonstrate that our police accountability system is sustainable, effective, meaningful, fair, and responsive to the people of Seattle.”

With the city and the Department of Justice announcing its agreement that the ‘vast majority’ of orders in the consent decree have been satisfied, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark said two outstanding issues still remain.

“This would be replaced with a new agreement that addresses the need for compliance in two final remaining areas: Officer accountability and police crowd control tactics,” Clark told KIRO Newsradio.

“She said there still needs work in the Seattle Police Department about bias policing,” Markovich added.

Despite Clark’s concerns, she claimed, “Seattle stands as a model for the kind of change and reform that can be achieved when communities, police departments, and cities come together to repair and address systemic misconduct.”

The department has continued to improve how to train officers better at constitutional policing while implementing three separate agencies — the Community Police Commission, the Inspector General, and the Oversight of Police Misconduct Cases (OIG) — to oversee the SPD.

With the consent decree about to be lifted, SPD hopes this will boost recruitment efforts, which have currently resulted in little success. This year has netted a slight loss in police officers once more — a trend that has existed since 2019.

According to SPD’s Recruitment & Retention Project Update, staffing levels in the department are at their lowest, with over 400 officers departing SPD since 2019. So far, in 2023, the city has lost 25 officers while enrolling 17 new officers in addition to two returning.

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But applicants are flowing in, as the city received 1,895 applications to join the force in 2022. It’s an extensive process with multiple steps, including National Testing Network physical and written exams, Frontline National testing, and public safety self-assessment tests.

Of the near-1,900 applicants, 494 made it through the requirements. In Washington state, police officer trainees take an average of 15 to 20 weeks to get through training.

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Seattle Police consent decree set to end after more than a decade